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Dead Men's Money(Chapter11)

2006-08-28 23:35

  Chapter XI. Signatures to the Will

  I was so knocked out of the usual run of things by this conversation with Crone that I went away forgetting the bits of stuff I had bought for Tom Dunlop's rabbit-hutches and Tom himself, and, for that matter, Maisie as well; and, instead of going back to Dunlop's, I turned down the riverside, thinking. It was beyond me at that moment to get a clear understanding of the new situation. I could not make out what Crone was at. Clearly, he had strong suspicions that Sir Gilbert Carstairs had something to do with, or some knowledge of, the murder of Phillips, and he knew now that there were two of us to bear out each other's testimony that Sir Gilbert was near the scene of the murder at the time it was committed. Why, then, should he counsel waiting? Why should not the two of us go to the police and tell what we knew? What was it that Crone advised we should wait for? Was something going on, some inquiry being made in the background of things, of which he knew and would not tell me. And——this, I think, was what was chiefly in my thoughts——was Crone playing some game of his own and designing to use me as a puppet in it? For there was a general atmosphere of subtlety and slyness about the man that forced itself upon me, young as I was; and the way he kept eyeing me as we talked made me feel that I had to do with one that would be hard to circumvent if it came to a matter of craftiness. And at last, after a lot of thinking, as I walked about in the dusk, it struck me that Crone might be for taking a hand in the game of which I had heard, but had never seen played——blackmail.

  The more I thought over that idea, the more I felt certain of it. His hints about Sir Gilbert's money and his wealthy wife, his advice to wait until we knew more, all seemed to point to this——that evidence might come out which would but require our joint testimony, Crone's and mine, to make it complete. If that were so, then, of course, Crone or I, or——as he probably designed——the two of us, would be in a position to go to Sir Gilbert Carstairs and tell him what we knew, and ask him how much he would give us to hold our tongues. I saw all the theory of it at last, clear enough, and it was just what I would have expected of Abel Crone, knowing him even as little as I did. Wait until we were sure——and then strike! That was his game. And I was not going to have anything to do with it.

  I went home to my bed resolved on that. I had heard of blackmailing, and had a good notion of its wickedness——and of its danger——and I was not taking shares with Crone in any venture of that sort. But there Crone was, an actual, concrete fact that I had got to deal with, and to come to some terms with, simply because he knew that I was in possession of knowledge which, to be sure, I ought to have communicated to the police at once. And I was awake much during the night, thinking matters over, and by the time I rose in the morning I had come to a decision. I would see Crone at once, and give him a sort of an ultimatum. Let him come, there and then, with me to Mr. Murray, and let the two of us tell what we knew and be done with it: if not, then I myself would go straight to Mr. Lindsey and tell him.

  I set out for the office earlier than usual that morning, and went round by way of the back street at the bottom of which Crone's store stood facing the river. I sometimes walked round that way of a morning, and I knew that Crone was as a rule at his place very early, amongst his old rubbish, or at his favourite game of gossiping with the fishermen that had their boats drawn up there. But when I reached it, the shop was still shut, and though I waited as long as I could, Crone did not come. I knew where he lived, at the top end of the town, and I thought to meet him as I walked up to Mr. Lindsey's; but I had seen nothing of him by the time I reached our office door, so I laid the matter aside until noon, meaning to get a word with him when I went home to my dinner. And though I could have done so there and then, I determined not to say anything to Mr. Lindsey until I had given Crone the chance of saying it with me——to him, or to the police. I expected, of course, that Crone would fly into a rage at my suggestion——if so, then I would tell him, straight out, that I would just take my own way, and take it at once.

  But before noon there was another development in this affair. In the course of the morning Mr. Lindsey bade me go with him down to my mother's house, where Mrs. Hanson had been lodged for the night——we would go through Gilverthwaite's effects with her, he said, with a view to doing what we could to put her in possession. It might——probably would——be a lengthy and a difficult business that, he remarked, seeing that there was so much that was dark about her brother's recent movements; and as the woman was obviously poor, we had best be stirring on her behalf. So down we went, and in my mother's front parlour, the same that Gilverthwaite had taken as his sitting-room, Mr. Lindsey opened the heavy box for the second time, in Mrs. Hanson's presence, and I began to make a list of its contents. At the sight of the money it contained, the woman began to tremble.

  "Eh, mister!" she exclaimed, almost tearfully, "but that's a sight of money to be lying there, doing naught! I hope there'll be some way of bringing it to me and mine——we could do with it, I promise you!"

  "We'll do our best, ma'am," said Mr. Lindsey. "As you're next of kin there oughtn't to be much difficulty, and I'll hurry matters up for you as quickly as possible. What I want this morning is for you to see all there is in this chest; he seems to have had no other belongings than this and his clothes——here at Mrs. Moneylaws', at any rate. And as you see, beyond the money, there's little else in the chest but cigars, and box after box of curiosities that he's evidently picked up in his travels——coins, shells, ornaments, all sorts of queer things——some of 'em no doubt of value. But no papers——no letters——no documents of any sort."

  A notion suddenly occurred to me.

  "Mr. Lindsey," said I, "you never turned out the contents of any of these smaller boxes the other night. There might be papers in one or other of them."

  "Good notion, Hugh, my lad!" he exclaimed. "True——there might. Here goes, then——we'll look through them systematically."

  In addition to the half-dozen boxes full of prime Havana cigars, which lay at the top of the chest, there were quite a dozen of similar boxes, emptied of cigars and literally packed full of the curiosities of which Mr. Lindsey had just spoken. He had turned out, and carefully replaced, the contents of three or four of these, when, at the bottom of one, filled with old coins, which, he said, were Mexican and Peruvian, and probably of great interest to collectors, he came across a paper, folded and endorsed in bold letters. And he let out an exclamation as he took this paper out and pointed us to the endorsement.

  "Do you see that?" said he. "It's the man's will!"

  The endorsement was plain enough——My will: James Gilverthwaite. And beneath it was a date, 27-8-1904.

  There was a dead silence amongst the four of us——my mother had been with us all the time——as Mr. Lindsey unfolded the paper——a thick, half-sheet of foolscap, and read what was written on it.

  "This is the last will and testament of me, James Gilverthwaite, a British subject, born at Liverpool, and formerly of Garston, in Lancashire, England, now residing temporarily at Colon, in the Republic of Panama. I devise and bequeath all my estate and effects, real and personal, which I may be possessed of or entitled to, unto my sister, Sarah Ellen Hanson, the wife of Matthew Hanson, of 37 Preston Street, Garston, Lancashire, England, absolutely, and failing her to any children she may have had by her marriage with Matthew Hanson, in equal shares. And I appoint the said Sarah Ellen Hanson, or in the case of her death, her eldest child, the executor of this my will; and I revoke all former wills. Dated this twenty-seventh day of August, 1904. James Gilverthwaite. Signed by the testator in the presence of us——"

  Mr. Lindsey suddenly broke off. And I, looking at him, saw his eyes screw themselves up with sheer wonder at something he saw. Without another word he folded up the paper, put it in his pocket, and turning to Mrs. Hanson, clapped her op the shoulder.

  "That's all right, ma'am!" he said heartily. "That's a good will, duly signed and attested, and there'll be no difficulty about getting it admitted to probate; leave it to me, and I'll see to it, and get it through for you as soon as ever I can. And we must do what's possible to find out if this brother of yours has left any other property; and meanwhile we'll just lock everything up again that we've taken out of this chest."

  It was close on my dinner hour when we had finished, but Mr. Lindsey, at his going, motioned me out into the street with him. In a quiet corner, he turned to me and pulled the will from his pocket.

  "Hugh!" he said. "Do you know who's one of the witnesses to this will? Aye, who are the two witnesses? Man!——you could have knocked me down with a feather when I saw the names! Look for yourself!"

  He handed me the paper and pointed to the attestation clause with which it ended. And I saw the two names at once——John Phillips, Michael Carstairs——and I let out a cry of astonishment.

  "Aye, you may well exclaim!" said he, taking the will back. "John Phillips!——that's the man was murdered the other night! Michael Carstairs——that's the elder brother of Sir Gilbert yonder at Hathercleugh, the man that would have succeeded to the title and estates if he hadn't predeceased old Sir Alexander. What would he be doing now, a friend of Gilverthwaite's?"

  "I've heard that this Mr. Michael Carstairs went abroad as a young man, Mr. Lindsey, and never came home again," I remarked. "Likely he foregathered with Gilverthwaite out yonder."

  "Just that," he agreed. "That would be the way of it, no doubt. To be sure! He's set down in this attestation clause as Michael Carstairs, engineer, American Quarter, Colon; and John Phillips is described as sub-contractor, of the same address. The three of 'em'll have been working in connection with the Panama Canal. But——God bless us!——there's some queer facts coming out, my lad! Michael Carstairs knows Gilverthwaite and Phillips in yon corner of the world——Phillips and Gilverthwaite, when Michael Carstairs is dead, come home to the corner of the world that Michael Carstairs sprang from. And Phillips is murdered as soon as he gets here——and Gilverthwaite dies that suddenly that he can't tell us a word of what it's all about! What is it all about——and who's going to piece it all together? Man!——there's more than murder at the bottom of all this!"

  It's a wonder that I didn't let out everything that I knew at that minute. And it may have been on the tip of my tongue, but just then he gave me a push towards our door.

  "I heard your mother say your dinner was waiting you," he said. "Go in, now; we'll talk more this afternoon."

  He strode off up the street, and I turned back and made haste with my dinner. I wanted to drop in at Crone's before I went again to the office: what had just happened, had made me resolved that Crone and I should speak out; and if he wouldn't, then I would. And presently I was hurrying away to his place, and as I turned into the back lane that led to it I ran up against Sergeant Chisholm.

  "Here's another fine to-do, Mr. Moneylaws!" said he. "You'll know yon Abel Crone, the marine-store dealer? Aye, well, he's been found drowned, not an hour ago, and by this and that, there's queer marks, that looks like violence, on him!"

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